Anyone who knows a person who has transitioned from one gender identity to another knows the imperative for that person of getting alignment between their internal and external gender identity or between their internal gender identity and their external biology. Those of us born “cis gender,” or whose internal gender identity is the same as our external physical body, may find it difficult to understand the challenges for transgender people. As a cisgender woman, I feel myself to be a woman and I was born in a woman’s body. Consequently, I am not confused about my gender identity, and neither is anyone who sees or knows me. I try to imagine the tremendous courage necessary for a trans person to take a stand and announce to friends, family, coworkers, and employees that although they may have known you as a man, you have always felt that you are a woman, vice versa, or neither, and you are choosing now to live as your true self. Whether or not a transgender person undergoes surgery or other medical intervention to physically alter their body to align with their internal identity, they still have a lot to deal with to learn to live as a different gender or as a gender-fluid or gender-nonconforming person. A lack of internal and external alignment or an appearance that does not conform to binary stereotypes of gender can cause confusion, depression, and suicidal thoughts for a person who feels they are “living a lie.” Rejection by employers for being transgender also means that many transgender people live in poverty.
As of 2016, thirty-two states did not have state laws to protect people from being fired for being transgender. An anonymous online 2015 survey of 28,000 adults, age eighteen and older from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and United States military bases overseas, revealed widespread poverty and other difficulties for the transgender community, as reported by the National Women’s Law Center. The survey found that people who are transgender are twice as likely to be living in poverty as the general US population, with 29 percent living in poverty in 2015, compared to the overall rate of 14 percent across the country. For transgender people of color, the statistics are even worse:
- 43 percent of Latinx transgender respondents live in poverty.
- 41 percent of American Indian transgender respondents live in poverty.
- 40 percent of multiracial transgender respondents live in poverty.
- 38 percent of black transgender respondents live in poverty.
Claire Martin of the New York Times reports
that 30 percent of transgender workers have been fired or denied a promotion.
Robert Pear of the New York Times reports
that recent court rulings have extended protections for transgender people in the workplace in certain states and set a precedent for future cases. The most recent ruling found that transgender people are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says that “gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.” The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit further states that employees may not be discriminated against because they fail to conform to “stereotypical gender norms” and that, as Pear explains, “discrimination based on transgender status is a form of sex discrimination.” The ruling also states that an employer’s religious beliefs do not justify discrimination.
Pear also notes that with recent court rulings, many employers are moving to create or strengthen policies to prevent bias and discrimination against transgender people. Martin reports that organizations like TransCanWork
, based in California, offer training programs and videos for employers. The Human Rights Campaign
also offers toolkits for employers. Tash Wilder, senior consultant at Paradigm, recommends
the following steps to create an inclusive workplace:
- Create policies and benefits that protect trans people from discrimination or harassment.
- Actively foster a culture where trans people feel a sense of belonging by
- Allowing new employees to input their own demographic data into the human resources systems
- Using names and pronouns that employees use, even if different than their legal name and pronoun
- Providing gender inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms
- Creating gender affinity groups that are welcoming, such as “Women and Gender Minorities”
More often these days, I am asked to introduce myself by my preferred pronouns when I enter new groups or organizations. This practice is helping me create new habits of mind and stop assuming that only two ways to identify one’s gender exist. My pronouns are “she, her, hers.” What are yours?
Photo courtesy of Misha Sokolnikov
(CC BY-ND 2.0